We all need to refresh our writing Muse, so this past Thanksgiving long weekend, I enjoyed two day road trips to Miquelon Lake Provincial Park. The first was on Saturday and then again on Monday. Both trips were a discovery of back roads and nature. It was chilly and breezy but glorious colours of the season were enjoyed.
There was plenty of wildfowl, a friendly squirrel, a couple of muskrats and evidence of a busy beaver too.
Although, I did some research for my detective book series and compiled a file folder of research, I did not write. We all need downtime.
However, I may write a short story on the unusual sight of a beaver lodge with a satellite dish! It’s too good not to.
Inspiration does come from anywhere and everywhere.
Short stories have always been a way for me to test the waters of genres and styles that I’m interested in but may not necessarily be ready to write a full novel in. I’ve used it to release things like pure science fiction or perfect prose-style writing, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. It really lets me stretch my legs.
2. Does writing short stories need a separate kind of skill set than full length manuscripts? What is the difference?
For sure. The biggest and most obvious difference is that you as a writer have very little time to get the entire message of the story across. Whereas a novel will let you build characters and settings, you need to be quick and to the point with what you’re telling in a short story. I started with micro-fiction, and studying things like Twitter for ideas on how to slam a story home in a small number of words. I’m still not an expert, but the experience has been invaluable.
3. Have any of your ‘shorts’ become full length novels?
No, nothing like that. I’ve actually had the opposite problem where I take a story idea I’ve had and convert it to a short story in order to tell the tale I wanted to tell as quickly and succinctly as possible.
The first story in my new book is called ‘A Conversation: Alive Again’, and it tells the origins of Nixon Ash, the imposing Scottish phoenix-man first introduced in my ‘Catching Hell’ duology. Originally I wanted Nixon’s origins to be its own book. I had it plotted out and ready to get started on. However, as I started writing the stories that went into this collection I realized that Alive Again fit so well into the style and structure I had laid out, so I converted it and came up with a way to tell that same story in significantly less pages. Nixon is interesting enough that he can carry that kind of story and tell what needs to be told without a hundred thousand words.
Between Conversations: Tales From the World of Ryuujin is live! Coming September 25th
4. What drew you to fantasy & science fiction writing?
It was the ability to create whatever I wanted. The freedom to tell a story and the only limits were my imagination. I don’t consider myself skilled enough to write the kind of deep, intriguing stories that win Pulitzers, and I’m totally alright with that as well. It’s not who I am. But I can just jump right into an epic fantasy with magic flying around everywhere, or the endless possibilities of technology or the universe, or both combined! I’m not limited, and that is a very satisfying way to write.
5. When writing the Catching Hell series did you plan the two books prior to writing, or did they emerge later?
It came after it was finished. When I pulled my head up from my keyboard and looked at what I had created, it was 225k words long. Impressive, but wholly impractical when it comes to marketing or trying to get picked up by a publisher or agent. Someone early on said I should consider making it a duology. I resisted the idea for a while, but realized they were right. I found a very natural split about half way through, tweaked some of the story, and added the prologue to Part 2, and that’s how it was born. One day I may rejig it again and make it one big book, but that’s the kind of thing we dream about and likely never do.
6. Do you have a favorite character – and why?
Although I think Nixon has the most potential as a character, who can shapeshift and summon fire and have a sense of humor, (not to mention the masochistic joy I get from trying to write a Scottish brogue) my favorite will always be Crystal Kokouo, who is a main character in Catching Hell but who has circulated through my ideas since I was a teenager. She’s an infinitely powerful woman who was one of the first people born into a damaged and destroyed world. Her father was a great man and hero to millions, and she has always tried to achieve the goals he never had the chance to complete and that pressure has molded her into what she is now. There’s a level of complexity with her that the casual reader misses because they only know her from the one story. There’s a depth there that I can’t wait to let the world see, but it will take time.
7. Where is your favorite place to write?
At my desk in my office at work. I write best surrounded by the low thrum of business and work going on all around me. I can’t work at home because there’s a million things I’d rather be doing if I’m there. At lunch, at my desk in my little cubicle there’s nothing to distract me, and I can spend 45 minutes to an hour just off in my own little world.
8. What is your usual writing procedure – planner or panster?
Pants! Pants pants pants, all day long.
I don’t go through the steps I know some authors do, where they lay out pages of plot details and character sheets and all of that. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I let a story grow organically. I start with an idea of who everyone is, and I always know where I’m going, but I don’t always know how I’ll get there. It’s worked to my detriment, as shown with my 225k epic that was so large it needed to be cut in half, but its work to my advantage as well. My debut novel Death Dresses Poorly was smashed out very quickly because I had that general idea in my head right away, but when the comedy and heart started popping up unexpectedly I was just as surprised as anyone else. I still like to go back and re-read parts of it just to get that feeling back that I had when I first wrote it. I see a line and I remember coming up with it and the happiness I felt at making something I personally enjoyed so much.
9. Can you tell us about your new release(s)?
I would love to! My newest book is called ‘Between Conversations: Tales From the World of Ryuujin’. It is a collection of nine short stories (though calling some of them ‘short’ is a bit of a stretch. There’s some whoppers in there I admit) that take place in the same world as Catching Hell, however those books are in no way required reading to enjoy this collection. They all stand on their own.
The stories are a wide range of genres, going back to what I was saying about trying new things. There’s a pure-horror story, a YA-style adventure, a bar scene I like to call Tarentino-esque, a historical fantasy. It’s just all over the place, held together by the collective structure of the world. The stories are told chronologically, from the 1600s up to thousands of years into the future. I really want the reader to see the amount of fun I had putting this together.
10. Do you have a message for your readers?
I sure do: this is a crazy time where we are constantly inundated with news and scenes and images that shake our collective mental health. I don’t say this to sell my books or the work of my contemporaries, but when this world has you worse for wear, pick up a book and read. Escape for 5 minutes to someplace, or learn about something that interests you. Escape, and don’t feel bad about doing it.
Or, forget the book and garden, or go for a hike, or find your zen away from the things that are getting to you. Separating ourselves from the cacophony has never been more important than it is today. My motto is “Be a hero”, and that doesn’t just mean to other people. Be a hero to yourself as well.
Marc Watson is an author of genre fiction (primarily Fantasy and Science Fiction of all lengths). He began writing at the age of 15 with a pen and paper, and has never really stopped, even though until recently it was more of a background to him than his defining trait. He has been published on flash fiction site www.101words.org, as well as comedy site www.thecorrectness.com. Marc has been a student of the excellent writing classes at Athabasca University for a number of years.
Marc lives in Calgary, Alberta, and was spawned out of the depths of Southern Ontario. A husband, proud father of two, and can be sometimes found at an actual job. Marc is an avid outdoorsman, martial artist of some high repute, baseball player of very little repute, and lover of all Mexican foods. One day ‘World Famous Poutine Aficionado’ will be on his business cards.
You can also find Marc on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marcwroteabook, and on twitter at @writewatson. For public appearances and interviews, he is proudly represented by Creative Edge Publicity.
With the restrictions on events and social gatherings, it is difficult to launch a new book in the traditional way. However, there are ways to promote your newest novel.
Make sure to announce the book title, it’s genre and date of publication and issue date on online sites. This can be through subscriber emails, on social media or local newspaper editorials. Or a combination of all three!
A great way to get your new novel out is a virtual book tour. You can utilize your social media platform and post dates you will be answering questions about the book. There are many options to choose from: Instagram Chat, Facebook chat, Zoom or your own YouTube channel.
If you have fellow authors willing to post your book announcement on their blogs that would be great too.
Offer blog subscribers and/or local book clubs a virtual book reading with a Q&A session afterwards.
Depending on your book’s genre (children/YA) you can create an interactive activity based on your narrative theme.
If you have a local bookstore – offer to have several signed copies available in store.
Be creative and think outside the box! What can you utilize from the story to showcase the book?
Have you launched a new book during COVID19 – how did you do it?
My own steampunk novel, The Commodore’s Gift is set for release 26th September, so I am planning a virtual launch. I have already shared steampunk images on my social media and a few teasers. I even created a steampunk bird, which was a lot of fun. Not sure if I keep him or include him in a gift basket. We will see. Of course there will be a book cover reveal as well.
Now I have to create the six week pre-launch campaign.
Hello and firstly apologies for my tardiness. It has been a crazy week. I have been upgrading my kitchen with some help from a friend. Six days of sanding, priming and painting cupboard doors! You don’t realize how many doors a kitchen has until you have to paint them, I can tell you. So from dull wooden kitchen to a fresh, bright and clean white kitchen with a soft green in the panels. A new splash-back has been put up too.
There is still more to do, as I had white tongue and groove to put over large wood panels and then a major reorganization. De-cluttering will commence once the upgrade is complete. The sanding and painting is a real upper body work out and with the hot temperatures we have been experiencing, sitting out on the deck meant I caught the sun. The sore muscles and weariness are so worth the end result though.
So to sum up – no writing done and almost no reading either. I am waiting on a revision to my steampunk novel book cover and review from my publisher for edits to the manuscript. My newest suspense manuscript has been left alone for the time being. Creativity of another sort took precedence.
I do have one event to look forward to in October – a writing retreat with a couple of friends in Crownest Pass. It is a self contained cabin, so we can write without disturbance, enjoying the views and being inspired by nature. I should be able to get some reading done too.
What have you upgraded during COVID19? It seems to be a popular thing to do for sure.
Whether you spend time intricately plotting and creating your story line or let the story flow unbidden, one facet of all stories that must be created and created well are its characters. Your protagonist, antagonist and all the supporting characters have a ‘job’ to do. They must give our readers an insight into their personalities, their struggles, ambitions and fears. Characters build the ‘world’ you have set your characters within by showing it through their eyes, their thoughts and actions.
Every writer has his or her own methods, when it comes to the creation of a character.
For example, Setting: an alien being trapped in a spacecraft, a monster hunting its prey or specific behavior traits for period pieces.
Physical features: This primarily gives our readers an image but more importantly an idea of their personality. A thin, acne-faced teenager will not automatically give our readers the idea of a ‘superman’ kind of personality but a muscle bound, athletic type could.
Name: a good starting point for our creation, but it is also a minefield. Research into real persons, living or dead should be foremost, unless of course you are writing about that particular person.
Accent: a character’s voice says a lot about their location and background.
Real people or not: We can base characters on people we know or a combination of several or from people watching – an author’s favorite pastime. As writers situations, overheard conversation and life in general is a constant source of inspiration.
There are numerous ‘character development work sheets’ available on the Internet and it can be useful to fill them in for your main characters, if you have no clear ‘picture’ of them to begin with.
I tend to write the story letting my characters dictate how their story will unfold. In so doing the characters develop creating their own story. This tends to change the narrative from my initial perception. In this way they may develop characteristics I had not considered or react quite differently to a situation from my preconceived idea. This method may seem harder than having a detailed description of each pivotal character, their backstory and emotional compass, but it is my method.
We ‘live’ with our characters for a long time and they become ‘real’ to us. This enables us to write the story with ‘insider knowledge’ of our characters backstory, their emotional compass and their ultimate goal. This knowledge becomes paramount during the subsequent drafts and editing process, giving us a well-rounded character and a believable one for our readers. In truth, the initial draft is the testing ground for our characters, and revisions make them well rounded and ‘believable’.
How do you create your characters?
Recognize these characters? Remember how irate poor Wile E Coyote would become with Road Runner? No matter what he did he never succeeded in catching his ‘dinner’. Beep, beep would ring out as yet another ACME kit damaged the coyote instead of the bird. It was truly a lesson in perseverance. No matter how many times the speedy bird escaped the coyote he would try, try, try again. I actually went past a road sign to Acme on my way to Canmore one time and wished I could have made a detour just for the fun of it.
The art of creating such lovable and memorable characters is what every author strives for. We hope our creations will stay in our readers minds long after the last page has turned. Character profiles and back story play a large part in ensuring our characters are well rounded and believable. We delve into their personality type seeking out traits and habits to make them react to their crisis situations in an authentic way.
Do you make up scenarios for people you observe? Have any made it in to a manuscript?
Without characters our stories would have no real impact on our readers. We write to engage and intrigue them and hopefully make our protagonist the character our reader cares about. If your experience is anything like mine, there is usually one, or possibly two characters, that make their presence known in no uncertain terms. They want the starring role in our narrative. These characters are usually more defined in our minds and are ‘easier’ to relate to, whether because of a personality trait or that they are more fun to write. When creating the protagonist and antagonist in our stories, we give each opposing views and/or values. This is the basis of the conflict that carries our readers along their journey. Each character, whether major or minor, needs to have flaws and redeeming features, motivations, expectations, loyalties and deterrents.
With such a guideline our characters become clearer. A lot of the details will never reach the pages of our manuscript but knowing our characters well makes for a more believable personality as they struggle through the trials and tribulations, we subject them to. As most of you know I am a ‘free flow’ writer so everything is by the seat of my pants until the editing starts. This is where I find character flaws or great character traits that I can correct or build upon. My characters live with me during the writing process and usually lead me in directions I had never considered – I’m sure many of you can relate to that. As these personalities gain strength they become more ‘real’ and that is the moment their true selves appear.
When creating characters we must remember to ensure that each character acts and responds true to their given personality. Character profiles are a good way of ‘getting to know’ our characters. For example this sheet.